Welcome to bellydance class! If you're taking Farha's level one class, you'll want to add finger cymbals around the time you start your second or third unit of class. Here's what to look for, and how to get three different sounds out of your cymbals.
Bellydancers have come up with some incredible stories to explain the origins of our dance. And while we can know a lot about the past century, the further back we go, the blurrier the picture gets. In her article about bellydance urban legends, Shira asks "Why can't we accept that the earliest origins of Oriental dance are lost in time?" I propose the following, as a way to create some sense of resolution around this issue.
You are bound to come across some version of the phrase "bellydance as we know it today", which generally means raqs sharki as it has been performed leading up the golden era and recorded in early Egyptian cinema. This style was popular with the concert halls and it formed from the dances of the awalim and Ottoman court dancers.
As Dr. Deagon points out, we tend to want to simplify the past, conceptualizing it as straight roads, with no on or off ramps. Instead (and in light of the ancient tradition of trade, the legacies of empires expanding and falling, to say nothing of colonialism) I recommend thinking of the timeline of bellydance as a series of rivers and streams that merge and diverge, mixing together and forging their own paths. Liquids are made of lots of molecules that stick together, and are always moving. Think of it, you can never look at the same river twice.
The following is a reader's digest/compilation of three articles, "Fact or Fiction: Which Belly Dance Urban Legends Should You Believe?" By Shira, "'The Oldest Dance'? Really???" also by Shira, and "In Search of the Origins of Dance: Real History, or Fragments of Ourselves" by Andrea Deagon, PhD., as well as my own thoughts stitching them together. The water cycle analogy is also my own. I've combined and condensed them in an effort to make it easier for new dancers to get solid footing on the issue of bellydance's history, without feeling too overwhelmed. Enjoy!
If you have a circle skirt, or other very full skirt, you probably, understandably, want to avoid hemming it. There is a lot of fabric there, and it will clearly take a long time to do. The sheer yardage of it will also provide plenty of opportunity to lose pins, or wibble and wooble and end up with an uneven hem. You might even have beading at the bottom, or some other beautiful trim, ruffle, or design that you don't want to interfere with.
trouble is, you also don't want to trip over your skirt, or wind up with a filthy hem after just a few performances. This tutorial will give you a way to take up the length on any skirt that gets worn under a belt or hip scarf. Sortta a tummy tuck for skirts! This technique is also great for circle skirts that have warped over time, to take up places where the hem has stretched longer over time.
It can seem like an overly intellectualizing exercise to differentiate between many different styles of bellydance, and there are a lot of contentious discussions about what makes a style of dance and when something ceases to be bellydance anymore. While it is understandable why one would want to avoid that kind of conversation there are many reasons for learning about the different styles of bellydance. Selfish reasons, practical reasons, and socially conscientious reasons.
First, let's differentiate between bellydance and Middle Eastern dance. Many styles of bellydance, but not all, are Middle Eastern dance, and a fair few styles of Middle Eastern dance are bellydance, but far from the majority. Nadira has a wonderful diagram that makes more sense of in a smaller space than my rambling about it will. It's also worth noting that in order to talk about one style or another, you HAVE to talk about the time period you're referring to. Differentiating between Turkish and Egyptian style, at least as enjoyed by the upper classes, would be useless if you're looking during the Ottoman empire when fashionable entertainment was Turkish. But during the 1960's, for example, the two countries had very different styles.
Also, remember that there is no value judgement in differentiating styles. I advocate doing it so we can appreciate each style's unique contributions and beauty, not in order to berate anyone into a mold.
It's a good idea to learn to do more than one style, but there's a lot of them! At the very least we should all learn about all the different manifestations of bellydance. Now, down to the reasons why it's worth it!
As bellydancers, we do a lot of jobs that for some other performers would be spread out amongst a team. We are our own stylists and sometimes our own costume makers, wardrobe masters, dressers, our own hair dressers and makeup artists, our own web designers, copy writers, publicists, agents and negotiators, our own choreographers (loosely speaking ^_~), artistic directors, sound editors, prop masters, producers, and stage managers. Each of these jobs in a theatre production would have their own kit to bring with them to each show, the tools they need to ensure the show runs smoothly. Luckily, we don't have to haul all of those kits with us everywhere we go! So what are the most important things to have with you at a gig?
Some dancers I know take a single shoulder bag containing just their wallet, skirt, belt, veil, and cymbals with their costume bra already on. I am on the other end of the spectrum, having been both a wardrobe head and stage manager for theatrical productions I tend to be the one that can rescue fellow performers backstage if needed. More often, I can rescue myself!
For the TL;DR crowd, there's a list at the bottom ^_~
If you haven't already, I suggest reading Ashiya and Naajidah's piece "where have all the cover ups gone?" For a good summary of why you should own and wear one. For the TL;DR crowd: a cover up is your combination backstage curtain and apron. It keeps your costume safer from kitchen (read backstage ^_~) spills and splashes and preserves the magic and awe of your vestments for the moment you take the stage. If you've already performed and are in the audience after, it helps you blend a bit and avoid stealing the spotlight from the next performers.
In this article, well look at what makes a good cover up, and your options for getting your hands on one.
This post is less about what makes a professional, beginner, or advancing amature quality costume, and more about the options for unifying a group in different ways.
First, you have to decide how unified you want your dancers to be, and then by what means you will unify them. The level of unity and polish your costuming will need depends on the level of performance you're intending to present. Think about the level of investment your dancers are prepared to make, in time or money, and about the skill level of the troupe. In addition to the styles represented in the group, skill level, and performance/venue expectations you'll want to consider how the colors and costume styles will balance as the formations of the choreography shift. A quick list of things to ask yourself:
Congratulations on signing up for your first workshop! Workshops are different from regular classes for a few reasons: there will likely be more people than your regular class, the lesson will last longer, the information will probably be more concentrated, and there's a different teacher- which means different expectations. Here are some tips to prevent you from being "that girl".
Tribal Fusion comes from ATS. As we know, ATS came from Am Cab ("as unromantic as it sounds to tribal bellydance historians, these dancers who hit the Ren Faires by day simply changed costumes and danced the night away at the restaurants. They were cabaret dancers in Ren Faire drag, if you will."-Shay Moore). From the original FatChance BellyDance troupe came Jill Parker, who created Ultra Gypsy and the start of tribal fusion.
Bellydance in Turkey: although it had long been a family folk dance in the Arab world, when the Ottoman empire expanded into Egypt and the Levant in the early 1500's entertainers like the Awalim were brought back to Turkey. (The harem-girl story came from Turkish odalisques who were trained in entertaining, although the female dancers usually performed for other women.) This of course had always been a 2 way street, with many Arabic instruments being perfected in Turkey. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire Turkey was focused on making a good impression with Western Europe, and downplayed it's Middle Eastern culture, bellydance was not a super popular form of entertainment and dancers from the courts left to find work elsewhere, including the Egyptian theaters.
Our next style goes by many names! Sometimes called "American Cabaret", or "Am Cab" for short, "Vintage American", "Vintage Oriental", "American Restaurant", "Vintage Restaurant", "classic American".... you get the idea. Each dancer usually has her preferred term but be aware that the term "cabaret" does NOT have a family friendly connotation outside the USA. So when speaking to someone from the Middle East, or Europe, it's better to pick one of the other terms.
The next chronological step in our styles journey, American Tribal Style!
We talked about the vintage American style a few posts ago and what made it look the way it did (does ^_~), but a lot of those situations don't exist anymore.
Again, the best way to get a handle on what is different between each style vs what is just different between individual dancers is to watch a collection of dancers in the same style, then another, then the first again, etc. This post is to give students enough of an orientation to Lebanese style to get the lay of the land. You can probably tell by how much shorter than the others it is, but there is more to the story which you're better off learning from sources more focused on this style.
This article will explain why I started this series of posts with Egyptian style, why many American bellydancers hold it as a standard (not that they should or shouldn’t, but it will help you understand how that happened) and what caused the changes from the vintage styling covered in the last couple posts to what's happening now. In addition to the social-political changes discussed there have been technical changes: the introduction of drum machines and synthesizers have profoundly changed the music. Additionally, because of those social changes modern Egyptian dancers don't have as much money to hire big orchestras, so bands have been scaled back and the percussion become more dominant (drummers are cheaper so you can still get a big sound for less cash). The dominance of the percussion, in my opinion, has a lot to do with a sort of stubborn insistence to stick around despite push from conservatives.
When you're looking for music to practice to, you have several options. First is to just turn on a bellydance playlist on youtube, turn off the screen, and dance along. The good news is this is free, the drawback here is that this only works if you have internet access on a device with decent speakers. CDs and MP3s are the most versatile. When you're just stating out in bellydance I recommend compilations, because they will help you find what you like. Keep in mind that your tastes might change over time, so don't rule out classical or folkloric right away ^_~. I'll try to link to a variety of sources in this article, so you have more options.
You might be thinking to yourself that you're never going to learn Arabic, so why learn the letters? Or maybe you want to learn the language but find the prospect of putting sounds into new shapes is too daunting. Knowing the basics is very helpful for bellydancers. First, it makes remembering song titles, dance styles, rhythm names, and names of famous composers and dancers MUCH easier when you can pronounce them. Second, you'll be able to make sense of why one word can be spelled so many different ways. It turns out that it's not arbitrary (well, usually. It depends on who is writing) there are simply a variety of solutions for transliterating sounds we don't have in English from Arabic.
New costumes are exciting, whether you make them yourself or buy them. Unfortunately you can almost never put a costume on right from the box: even when it has been custom made to your measurements there are some important steps to take before trying to perform in a new costume. This post should help you get a better fit, make your costumes more comfortable (sortta'), keep things in place when you're dancing, and help them last longer. We can't really cover major alterations too much here, those will depend too much on what your specific situation is, and might need a full-on sewing class, depending on your skill level and the situation of your costume. We CAN, however, cover the things you'll need to do to almost every new costume.